CORPUS CHRISTI, Texas (Nov. 21, 2018) An old military dog tag on sale at a Corpus Christi, Texas antique shop inspired a Navy veteran's passion for history and a sense of duty to those who have served.
Mr. Juan Aguilar, Naval Health Clinic Corpus Christi Housekeeping, acquired the tag that once belonged to William P. Harned, 38759488.
Military memorabilia is sought after for a variety of reasons, but Aguilar began his collection thoughtful of the original owner's family.
"I could only imagine if my dad was missing his," said Aguilar, "I hope that somebody would take the time and return it back to us."
Dog tags are stamped with a military member's essential information such as name, service number, blood type, and religious preference.
The embossed "P" on the last line of Harned's tag means that he was a Protestant. The tag's notch indicates that it was produced during World War II.
After purchasing it in 2013 for $7, Aguilar did some research hoping to locate the family and return the vintage artifact. But his efforts resulted in disappointment following several unanswered queries.
Nevertheless, Aguilar continued collecting.
Two years later he purchased a POW bracelet for $8 at the same Corpus Christi antique shop.
The commemorative, also known as a POW/MIA bracelet, is nickel-plated, and is engraved with the rank, name, and loss date of an American serviceman captured or missing during the Vietnam War.
The bracelets, also in copper, were first created in May 1970 by a California student group called Voices in Vital America (VIVA), with the intention that American Prisoners of War in Vietnam not be forgotten, according to online sources.
Each bracelet sold for approximately $3, and those who wore them vowed to leave them on until the soldier named on it, or their remains, were returned to America. Between 1970 and 1976, approximately 5 million were distributed.
Aguilar's new acquisition commemorated Harry Jenkins Jr., retired Navy captain.
Jenkins was a prisoner of war at the infamous Hanoi Hilton for a period of 7 years. He was shot down while piloting an A-4E Skyhawk jet on his 155th mission over North Vietnam on Nov. 13, 1965, according to The New York Times online Archives. For years his fate remained unknown.
Aguilar recalls the thrill of connecting with Jenkins' family.
"I was able to get in touch with his daughter in California, and when I told her that I had her father's POW/MIA bracelet, she said What!? I've got to call my brother!'"
After a few text messages, Aguilar successfully returned the bracelet to the family.
"It really made me feel good!" he said. "I just do it because I'm a veteran myself."
Aguilar, from Laredo, Texas retired from the U.S. Navy in 2005 as an Aviation Boatswain's Mate (Aircraft Handling) 1st Class. He joined the NHCCC team in 2007.
Recently, Aguilar began acquiring vintage Navy memorabilia for use in the display case located in the NHCCC Medical Home Port entrance.
When he first noticed the case a few years ago, it contained historical artifacts belonging to another individual. But that person reclaimed the items when they transferred.
Aguilar says that he plans to carry on the tradition of displaying historical memorabilia, with the understanding that the items will remain at the clinic for patients and staff alike to enjoy.
Most of his contributions relate to the medical community so patients can see what the Navy hospital corps used during World War II through the Vietnam era.
Aguilar won't put a value on his collection: he feels that it is priceless.
"You don't find too many of the pieces anymore, particularly the white sea bag and that Donald Duck hat," Aguilar explained. "But what makes all of the items so interesting is that you can see the way things were in the past and imagine the progression that has taken place until now, what they look like today."